This artist’s worth his salt

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - Front Page -

His fam­ily took it with a pinch of salt when their son said he was go­ing to be­come an artist – but four years later, Percy Maimela is show­ing he had more than a grain of sense.

South Africa’s pre­mier “salt artist”, who will be par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Peo­ple’s Port Fes­ti­val this week­end, popped into Week­end Post on Fri­day to serve up an ap­pe­tiser for his mag­i­cal show.

Work­ing quickly and eas­ily with a paint­brush and quar­ter of a bot­tle of the best of Ma­rina Light­house – and pep­per­ing his con­ver­sa­tion with jovial asides – he ex­plained how he had launched his un­usual ca­reer one lunch hour dur­ing a slow day at the gen­eral mer­chan­dise store he was work­ing at in 2014, in the Tsh­wane town­ship of Mabopane where he was born.

“I was roam­ing around the shop look­ing for a way to kill the time when I spot­ted a bag of salt which had spilt some of its con­tents on the ground. I sat down on the floor next to it and took out a pho­to­graph I had on my phone of this in­ter­est­ing-look­ing guy with dread­locks, and be­gan to see if I could ‘draw’ him.”

When he looked up 20 min­utes later, his col­leagues were clus­tered around him and they were as sur­prised as he was at the star­tling like­ness he had achieved, he said.

Maimela had dab­bled in draw­ing at school and was re­minded of how much en­joy­ment it gave him. So he re­signed from his job and told his fam­ily he was go­ing to be­come an artist.

“I don’t come from an ar­tis- tic fam­ily, so it was a chal­lenge to tell them that. They were scep­ti­cal. But I think they ap­pre­ci­ate now what I am do­ing.”

Maimela, 33, said he had spent a day or two cal­cu­lat­ing how many cus­tomers he would need and how much money he could earn be­fore re­al­is­ing he sim­ply had to go out and get com­mis­sions.

He did and the money be­gan to flow in. TV sta­tions cov­ered his work, prompt­ing more com­mis­sions and then he be­came in­volved in per­for­mance art, cre­at­ing large salt art­works at pub­lic venues and events, fo­cus­ing on por­traits of fa­mous peo­ple but also of or­di­nary peo­ple and of an­i­mals.

His favourite was of the great Ger­man sci­en­tist Al­bert Ein­stein, he said.

“I did it in the mall in Mid­del­burg [Mpumalanga]. It took me three hours and I was very pleased by the de­tail and the dif­fer­ent tones I man­aged to put in.”

Draw­ing was in fact the sci­ence of ar­rang­ing shapes in space, he agreed.

“But I don’t think when I work. Why think? I was made to draw.”

He said he liked the chal­lenge of turn­ing a prod­uct that was present in ev­ery home into some­thing dif­fer­ent.

“In this time of huge un­em­ploy­ment, I am send­ing a mes­sage to South Africans which says ‘re­cy­cle, con­vert, think dif­fer­ently’.”

Maimela also works in pen­cil and char­coal and is set to host a De­cem­ber 3 to 15 ex­hibi-

Pho­to­graph: FREDLIN ADRI­AAN

PINCH OF MAGIC: Salt artist Percy Maimela cre­ates a pic­ture of Zi­zonke May. Maimela fo­cuses on por­traits of fa­mous peo­ple but also of or­di­nary peo­ple and of an­i­mals

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